G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

A medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation online

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and without the gates I found many poor folk sitting
there beyond all number ; if I shall tell truth, a good
thirty lepers or more sat there, in their miserable sores.
Many were pained with grievous torments. I must
needs go sit with them (which I would fain have avoided,
but my comrade bade me thither), as though I too had
been sick. Then that crowd of lepers greeted us with
a mighty snort of welcome. I will not lie ; grievously
sick were many of that crew, and I sat down among
them on the grass. Therewith all asked with one voice
whence we were ; whereat I was abashed and said,
" We are two strangers, that have never yet been here ;
poverty hath urged us, if perchance some man would
give us help." Then said they : " Happily are ye
come hither ; perchance ye know not that the lady
of this house lieth sick, wherefore folk give us often-
times our fill of food and pennies withal ; a maiden
hath even now brought us bread and wine (maj^ she
be blessed for ever !) and ye also should have gifts
if your coming were known, believe us well. Knock

Among the Lepers. 39 t

therefore boldly and beg after the wont of us poor
folk ; wine and bread shall ye have for your pains,
wherewith ye may still your ravening hunger ; and, if
perchance no pennies to-day, yet to-morrow at least
without fail." So I departed from these lepers and
went to stand by an oriel window that was hung with
fair tapestry, such as men hang oftentimes at a
window against overmuch wind or light. . . . Thither
I took my basin, that rang like a bell, and knocked so
loud that it sounded even into the ladies' parlour ;
after which I miserably besought a morsel of bread
for the sore hunger that beset me. As I prayed thus,
a maiden looked forth from the window and beheld us
twain standing alone and apart from the rest ; where-
upon she closed it again and went to tell her Lady
how we stood there ; and the pure saint looked out
upon us. After a while this maiden came forth from
the gate and gave unto each of the lepers a penny ;
and when she was come to us, the sweet maiden spake
from her red mouth : " Tell me, when came ye hither ?
I have not yet seen you here." Then I made my voice
strange unto her and answered, " We suffer sore dis-
comfort of sickness and poverty ; whosoever will help
us aught for God's sake may work his own eternal
bliss, for we are come hither in great poverty and are
well nigh dead for hunger and for stress of want."
Then drew she nearer to us and said, " Let me know
who ye are ; I may no longer tarry here ; if ye be come
for my lady's sake, tell it me forthwith and conceal
not the truth." Then said I to that fair damsel :
" Lady, in truth, your lady bade me come hither ; and
know that I am he whose joy standeth in her grace,
and who hath ever served her and will ever truly serve
her unto my life's end." Then answered she forthwith :
" If thou art high-minded for ladies' sake, then shall
your stout and worthy arms enfold a worthy lady :
ye sit here with little likeness to one who hath broken
spears for his lady's grace and borne himself with
knightly strength ; yet will I tell my lady from you
that ye are come hither for her sake ; when she hath
heard of your good coming, then will I return and tell

392 A Medieval Garner.

how ye shall fare here." Therewithal she departed
to find my Fair, and said forthwith in all truth how
I was here. Then said my pure and sweet lady,
" Truly I am right glad thereof ; bid him welcome for
me, for I have gladly heard of his coming ; go again
secretly and bring him somewhat ; bid the proud
knight go down the hill and take good heed lest he be
discovered, and spare mine honour as he loveth his
own life. Bid him come up again in the evening, then
will I let him know what I have bethought and where-
fore I have brought him hither : take to him now
flesh of capons, bread, and wine, and bid him be right
welcome." The maid went swiftly thence and found
me yet waiting there ; she and another maiden brought
me meat and wme in plenty ; seeing therefore that
there was another with her, I set my bowl far from me
and said, " Lady, set the meat therein ; for alas ! my
sickness lieth hard on me." Then the one maiden
halted, but the other drew near to me, saying, " I fear
not thy sickness ; my worthy lady hath bidden you
God-welcome ; she would fain see you, if so it may be
without shame. She hath bidden you through me
(wherefore ye must willingly obey), to go down forth-
with and beware of discovery and keep yourself well ;
this must needs be, or you are but a dead man : your
own sense will tell you that, and I counsel you well,
foolish as I stand here. Then at nightfall shall ye
come up again hither ; then will I discover to you my
lady's mind ; I ween well that she is gracious to you;
be sure that she hateth you not, for such favour hath
she never yet shown to any knight." With this she
departed from me ; and when she was gone I took my
meat and drink and bare it to'the lepers, saying : " My
lady hath given us great plenty of meat and drink
to-day ! God grant her a long and happy life ! Never
did I get so great alms, wherefore I will share it with
you, and we will hold it in common, and ye shall do
likewise to us when ye get good meat." " Yea,"
said they, " So be it ; for men oftentimes give us flesh
and bread and wine, which we will share in turn with
thee and live in good fellowship." So we sat all in a

Among the Lepers. 393

ring and set there the good flesh and wine ; I saw in
that dish many a hand such as I dare not here speak of ;
yea, I must needs restrain my words for very courtesy ;
the hair stood straight on my head to see that filth.
. . . With such folk nmst I now eat ; rather would
I have lost my life than sit there among them ; yet
care for my good lady's good name constrained me.
Had I not gone in among these folk, then had I been
discovered without fail. Now know I that many will
say, I could not have dwelt among these lepers but
that they had discovered me to be free from their
sickness. To such an one would I answer that he
knoweth not the virtue of simples, which can work
many wonders. I have not yet forgot the herb which,
if a man take it in his mouth, will make him swell
forthwith and change the fashion of his countenance
so that no man may know him ; he may wander un-
known throughout the whole earth ; this art I know,
simple as I am.* Those same herbs had I there ;
I had coloured my hair grey, yet methinks I needed
it not ; for ye might already see me grey with care
before my time. . . .

When we sick folk had eaten, I went forthwith down
the hill into the village, and begged for alms in the
guise of a sick man. Men gave me much broken meat,
which I took for my lady's sake ; they gave me enough
and to spare, but I bare it forth and laid it in a furrow,
nor know I who took it thence ; I know well that it
profited me not. So I went about begging for pastime
until evening came on, and the setting sun cast his
rays athwart the hill ; then went I again to the castle-
gate and sat in my place among the lepers, who gave

* Compare the following extract from a 14th-century book of
medicine and magic preserved in the Communal Library of Siena and
alluded to on pp. 320 ff of Mr. W. Heywood's Ensamples of Fra Filippo.
I owe the transcript from the Italian text to Mr. Heywood's good
offices. " Chapter 235. To make a man appear a Leper. Take the
husks of fresh walnuts, and draw out the juice, and wash in the said
juice, and thou shalt appear a leper. And then shalt thou wash in
water of bean-leaves and of elder, and thou shalt return to thy right
colour." It must be remembered that all forms of skin disease were
rommonlv confounded under the one name of leprosy.

394 A Medieval Garner.

me a ready welcome. Then asked I whether they had
yet eaten. " Nay," said they, " we eat even now, ye are
come in good time ; for now they will bring our evening
dole at so timely an hour that each may creep away
to his own shelter." Here sat I a good space, until
the fair maid came again to us, with attendants that
bore meat and wine in plenty. Then said she to me,
" Get you down without delay and come again to-
morrow for the morning meal ; take good heed mean-
while." " Nay," quoth I, " what boots it to my lady
that I am here in so wondrous wise, if she will not see
me secretly ? " " Not so," quoth she, " for that may
not be until the morrow. She hath surely purposed
to see you before your departure ; only take heed that
none discover you." When the maiden was gone, I
ate among the lepers sore against my will, for their
company was loathsome unto me. . . . After our meal
was done, then each vied with the other to bid me to
his own hut ; but I made answer : " One of my fellows
lieth sore sick : I will go thither and spend the night
with him for God's sake, and for mine own troth."
So I departed straightway from the castle unto a field
afar off, where I found the corn both thick and high ;
thither I and my fellow fled from the lepers, and the
corn must needs be our inn for that night. There
spent I a most evil night, believe me ; for with the
sunset and darkness arose a great wind, and the rain
beat down in torrents ; there was I in sore straits, for
a ragged worn-out coat and mantle were all my shelter
against the rain, and I was half frozen to death. More-
over, my need was greater still ; for (I will not lie)
the worm that hath no name bit me so sore throughout
the night that I burst well nigh out of my body ;
many a guest tormented me that night, both he and
she.* Heartily glad was I to see the glimmer of day :
then ran I hither and thither until I was warm again.
Believe me, when Ereck lay in Enid's arms, it was
better with him than with me on that most evil night.

* The Florentines (according to Bechstein) still use the nicknames boy
and girl for pulce and cimice : this suits the German genders, if not
the Italian.

Among the Lepers* 395

Had I not lived on thoughts of love, I had never been
whole again : but sweet hope upheld me. Though
bodily comfort be good, yet thoughts of love are better
still ; he who hath such amid his troubles may well
be comforted and glad.

When the sun stood high, then went I again without
delay to my place at the castle gates, where I knocked
and begged piteously for alms ; all my garments were
wet to the skin, and I was in sore distress. Then came
the maiden again with much meat ; I thought within
myself : " My lady will fain make me sick indeed ! "
Then came the maiden and said, " Where were ye
yesternight in that wicked weather ? for ye must
needs have suffered sore distress if ye had no roof."
" Yea," quoth I, " much discomfort have I suffered,
and was well nigh dead for cold and other pains which
I dare not tell ; yet I suffer all gladly and joyfully if
but my lady will do me grace, for therein standeth
my life." " Eat then," quoth she, " and go down the
hill again ; but come again at eventide, for (by my
troth I swear it) my most worthy lady will leave you
there no more : to-night she will see you." Then she
departed from me, and her tale rejoiced me much ;
wherefore I went amongst the sick folk, among whom
I must needs eat again, with however evil will. Then
I went into a wood where many fowls sang ; there I
set my body in the sun and clean forgot the cold ; my
fellow meanwhile picked most busily ; he picked here
and picked there throughout that livelong day ; no
Italian could have done it better or more cunningly,
yet to me no day was ever so long as this. . . . Thus
sat I here in the forest until it drew towards evening ;
then I arose and went up in high hope, right as a man
whose heart hath high desire of love, and who deemeth
that it is returned ; rightly may his heart then stand
high, and thus it was with me. I sat again at the
castle gate, as ye may well believe, but I was too early ;
men had not yet begun to flock thither as they do
towards sunset : yet there I sat in high hopes and
thought within myself : ^' Well is me, if I shall indeed
this night see my lady ! " So high stood my hopes

396 A Medieval Garner.

of love, when this virtuous maiden came demurely
again to me, saying : "Ye have done right well to
come so early ; I know not if ye have heard it, but
one of the sick folk saith that ye be no true leper, for
he saith that ye wear under-garments of so fine linen
as any nobleman might be honoured to possess ; I
know not how he hath seen it, yet thus hath he said
to me, and I fear sore lest he may say the same to
others." Then said I, " If I be discovered, that is by
my lady's fault ; why would she have me sit here and
go all day hence ? and how could they otherwise have
seen and suspected me ? Counsel me now, lady, what
I should do." "Go then forthwith, and tarry no
longer here, for that is my lady's purpose : yet mark
me now. At the parting of day and night, come hither
again and hide thee in the castle ditch,* conceal yourself
well, as ye are wise, for the need is great ; that may
ye well see. Mark me now well ; see ye yon high
oriel ? When a light shall be shown thence, tarry
no longer, but come swiftly beneath the window, and
ye shall find bedclothes hanging, knotted in a loop,
whereby ye shall be drawn up."

So I did as she bade me, and went forthwith into
the forest again ; my mood was turned again to gladness
and I thought : " Now, well is me for evermore, since I
shall see my beloved lady this night, whereof I will
rejoice ! " In that forest I tarried until day was gone
and dark night had chased the light away ; then I
hastened to the ditch and swiftly walled myself in
with stones that no man might see me ; my fellow did
likewise ; then must we lie as still as death. As we
lay thus hidden, the seneschal himself went seven times
around the castle hither and thither, seeking diligently
whether any man were come to hide : full closely
did he peer around. . . . Then he went into the castle,
and I marked the light shining from the oriel : forth-
with I rose up and drew off the ragged garments wherein
I was disguised and hid them full fast. Swiftly . I

* Which would of course be a dry ravine hewn in the rock, as this
was a hill-castle.

Love and Treachery. 397

crept under the window, where I found the coverlet
hanging ; wherein I set myself willingly ; my fellow
was full handy and shoved after me with a right good
will ; my heart beat in haste until white hands drew me
somewhat upwards. But when I was come so high
that my trusty fellow might help me no further, then
knoAV that they could draw me no higher, whereof
both they and I were sorry. With this they let me
suddenly fall ; then they strove afresh, and drew me
as high as before : yet no hairsbreadth further might
they bring me, to their sorrow and mine. Thus it
befel me three times ; when therefore I came thus for
the third time to earth, I stepped forth in anger from
the coverlets and said, " Good fellow mine, thou mayest
well be lighter than I ; step thou in, that they may
draw thee up." He stepped in, and thus they did
forthwith ; I shoved after him with a right good will ;
they drew him swiftly up, and I was glad. As he
stepped into the chamber, he was greeted with a kiss :
for my good aunt kissed him for me, whereof she hath
oftentimes since been ashamed. When this undesigned
kiss had been given, my fellow let down the noose to
me again ; I stepped in with hearty good will, for
thereto was all my desire ; and forthwith they drew
me up to the oriel.

As I came through the window, my aunt pressed
her red mouth with hearty love to mme ; then that
fair and virtuous lady drew me into a comer and clad
me in a robe of Bagdad brocade, wherein I went forth-
with to find my lady. Chaste and sweet and merry
sat she there upon a bed and greeted me right modestly ;
she bade me welcome. I tell you how she was clad:
she bare a white sark, that was full strait. Over this
had my noble and fair and pure lady a robe of scarlet
furred with ermine : no feather could be softer. Her
mantle was green as grass, hned with soft vair, and
with skirts neither too wide nor too close. By her
stood eight ladies, right nobly clad ; upon the bed
lay a fair mattress of samite whereon were two quilts of
silk, better there might not be, and over all such a
bed-cover as no knight saw ever a fairer. There too

39 8 A Medieval Garner.

lay a precious bolster and two most comely pillows.
The floor could nowhere be seen, for it was bespread
with many a fair carpet ; at the bed's foot burned two
great tapers in their candlesticks, and a good hundred
tapers on the walls. The eight ladies of that bower
were fair and lovely : richly were they clad ; yet,
sooth to say, methought the ladies were too many,
their presence irked me, and I grieved in my heart to
see them.

Here sat my worthy lady before me, no fairer or
more virtuous could be seen. Then knelt I before her
and said : " Lady, for your virtue and your worshipful
youth's sake, for your pure sweet mind, be kind and
gracious to me ! Think now on my heart's desire
which is turned towards your love, whom I hold dear
above all other women. You are dearer to me than
aught else ; if therefore I may have your love 'par
amours, then have I all the bliss that ever I longed for ;
here may you grant me high courage and worshipful
life for all my days to come." Then said that pure
and gentle lady : " Nay, your courage may not aspire
so far as that I should lay you here by my side. Be
warned, nor desire that which may not be ; if I have
gladly seen you here in my secret bower, that is only
for your honour ; since ye have so demeaned yourself
as that every woman should ever honour you therefore.
If therefore I could grant you honour, ye should have
it from me : take it for honour that I have brought
you into my chamber, a thing that hath never yet
befallen any knight. My lord and master shall live
ever free from fear lest I should love another man than
he ; for (even though I feared it not for God's honour
and mine own), yet my lord would keep close watch
over me ; nevertheless, even though his watch were
away, mine own honour is a yet stronger defence ;
and my pure mind helpeth him here more than aught
else. If therefore I set mine honour thus in jeopardy,
and neglect my homage to him, that is to honour you ;
for, if any man in this castle were aware of your
presence, then were mine own honoiu" tarnished ;
wherefore ye should thank me for this venture."

Love and Treachery. 399

'* Ever will I thank you, dear Lady, whatsoever ye
do unto me ; for I know ye are so good and pure and
blessed that ye alone stand betwixt me and mourning ;
and doubtless ye will here grant me your love this
night." Then said she, " No more of this, but if ye
would lose my grace. ..." At this threat I was
afraid and rose and went to mine aunt saying : " How
shall this be ? If I get no profit of my coming, then
shall I be crestfallen : I will not believe so ill of her
goodness, for that were a great ungrace and mischief ;
my lady shall bethink herself. Nay, aunt, I will not
go hence, befall what may, until my Lady grant me
her love. ..." Then said mine aunt, " Nephew, I
know in truth that she hath summoned thee for no
more than she saith ; therefore hath she so many of
us in attendance, that thou mayest do her no violence,
as many men are wont to do : and I know well that,
if thou but touch a hair of her head against her will,
then will she never be gracious to thee, nor shalt thou
ever have thy will : yet one thing have I heard her
say, that thou shalt yet get her love if thou blench
not in her service."

Here follow nearly 40 stanzas more of three-cornered discussions
between Ulrich, the Lady, and the Aunt.

Then came my Lady to me and said, " God knoweth
that I have seen no man so witless as ye are ... if ye
tarry here till morning light, then must ye surely be
slain ; ye should be glad to get hence as I bid you ;
if ye will not bear yourself mannerly towards me, then
sue me not for your friend, and know that your
promised troth is naught. They told me that ye
would be at my service, but therein have they deceived
me and belied you, as I see by your bearing : for
whatsoever I pray you this night ye deny me ; where-
fore I esteem you but lightly." Then spake I, " Nay,
dear lady, but I will ever serve you truly until my
dying day. Your love shall bind me to all eternity :
wherefore, dear lady of all my bliss, grant me your
grace that I may love you par amours ; for, an we
must now part, then truly ye use me worse than any

400 A Medieval Garner.

knight was ever used of his lady." " Follow me,"
quoth she, " do as I bid now, and it shall be well with
you. Step once more into the coverlet : then shall
I let you down but a little and draw you up again, and
greet you well according to your desire. When I have
thus received you again, I will be wholly your subject
unto whatsoever end ye will ; for I have chosen you
above all other knights to be my friend." " Lady,"
quoth I, " were I well assured of that, then would I do
all your will ; yet I fear lest ye let me down and draw
me never up again ; then were I crestfallen and un-
happy that ever I was born ! " " Nay," quoth she,
" but I will give you a pledge ; for I grant that ye
hold me fast by the hand ; ye are no true servant of
mine an ye trust me not, and yet have I chosen you
to be my friend above all other knights ; by my woman-
hood I lie not ! " " Dear lady, I will commend myself
wholly to your grace, as my duty biddeth ; ye may
deal well or evil with me as ye will, since ye say ye
have chosen me above all others for friend." " Yea,
and it shall be well with you if ye do after my will ;
in the end ye shall love me par amours.'''' Therewith
my good lady took me by the hand and led me until
she found the coverlet that hung at the window :
there she bade me step in, saying, " Fear not ; trust
my faith that I will not suffer you, my chosen friend,
to part thus from me." Anxiously I stepped in the
coverlet, and they let me down so far that they should
have raised me again ; then said my good lady with
subtle intent, " God knoweth that I never saw so
dear a knight as this who now hath me by the hand !
wherefore be thou welcome to me ; I will comfort thy
sorrow and thou shalt be God- welcome ! " Therewith
she caught me by the chin and said, " Friend, kiss me
now ! " at which word I was so overjoyed that I let
go her hand : swift then was my downward journey ;
and, had not God been with me, I had lightly broken
my neck. When I reached the earth, the coverlet
was drawn up again, and I must needs sit there in
sorrow with a bitter aching heart. Then waxed I
almost beside myself with grief, and cried aloud.

Love and Treachery. 401

" Alas, alas, and ever alas ! woe is me, that ever I was
born ! now have I lost both life and honour ! " Then
I sprang to nij^ feet in a frenzy, and ran down a steep
path to a deep water, wherein I would have drowned
myself in sin ; of a truth I had died there had not my
fellow come to me, whom they had let down swiftly
after me. When this faithful courteous servant heard
my cries, he was cut to the heart and ran after and
caught me even as I would have leapt into the water
for my death. '^ Alas," quoth he, " what may this
be ? Dear friend and master, if ye will slay yourself,
then are ye lost, body and soul ; better wert thou
unborn. Up, then, and play the man." " Nay,"
quoth I, '^ here must my life be spilled ; for I have lost
my pure, worthy, sweet lady through an evil subtlety,
wherefore will I no longer live ! " " Nay," quoth he,
" but ye should be glad to live on, for my lady sendeth
you her OAvn pillow, whereon her cheek hath lain this
many a night ; she had thought to have had your love
this night, and now would she fain comfort you."
When he spake thus, and I saw the pillow, then my
senses came somewhat back to me : sadly I sat on the
ground and gazed on the trusty fellow through my
tears, and said, " Alas ! I am in evil case, for my pure,
sweet, worthy lady hath deceived me ; she bade me
trust her faith that she would not let me down ; a
noble pledge she gave me, her own soft white hand ;
with subtlety she hath overcome me, which was not
well done ! " Then said he, " Master, ye should be
glad ; believe me well, to-night will she greet you with
love for your delight, that ye may have your will of
her. But let us tarry here no longer ; the day da^vneth,
and it will soon be light, and ye must needs see to your
young simple squire, whether he be still there with our
horses, or whether he have been discovered . . ."

Online LibraryG. G. (George Gordon) CoultonA medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation → online text (page 34 of 61)